Archaeology and Hype
Is Holy Land Archaeology Being Hyped by Politics? The answer is yes, according to this article by Matthew Kalman. But if your major sources are Jim West and Meir Ben-Dov, this is an entirely predictable, but not necessarily accurate, conclusion.
Is archaeology hyped? Sometimes it is. But is the cause politics or something else? Does the problem lie with archaeologists or with someone else?
Everybody wants a sensational story. The public doesn’t want to read about a clay tablet, they want to hear about the oldest inscription ever found in Jerusalem. Journalists and their publishers want stories that sell. Archaeologists are typically tireless workers who often lack necessary funding and sometimes may stretch the significance of their discovery for personal or professional reasons. In my observation, archaeologists in Israel generally present their work in an appropriate way that doesn’t overstate the evidence. Sometimes the media spins things to boost pageviews, such as one headline on this story that makes this latest discovery the “oldest document found in Israel.” That’s not true, and it’s not what the archaeologists reported.
I have been concerned in the past with some claims. Usually I find fault because the sensational conclusion is announced prematurely. Eilat Mazar found the palace of David in her first season of excavations in the area. If this claim was made after five years of careful investigation and discussion with colleagues, I would be less inclined to view it as a fundraising device. Shimon Gibson announced his discovery of the “Cave of John the Baptist” at the same time that his book was released, but I don’t know of any archaeologists who find his evidence compelling. Rami Arav is very outspoken about his excavations at the New Testament city of Bethsaida, but his impressive finds are from an Iron Age city of the kingdom of Gesher, and there is very little that he has excavated which supports the Bethsaida identification.
Are there problems with archaeologists hyping archaeological discoveries? Yes. Are they systemic and primarily motivated by politics? I hardly think so.